Washington, DC. 1 September 2017
Nancy, a friend who lived in this area for years, suggested a trip to the historic Frederick Douglass home so that’s what we did. I made reservations, we rode our bikes down teeth-jarring streets and side walks but found a smoother and shorter route home via the Anacostia Trail.
Maybe years ago in school's history classes, we were taught about Frederick Douglass, but if so, it's long faded from my memory. This was a very sobering lesson in the tenacity and perseverence of this man who was born into slavery as Frederick Alugustus Washington Bailey.
His mother, a slave, was forced to leave him as an infant. He never knew the identity of his white father who was possibly his mother's owner. He lived in poverty, crowded into two rooms with grandparents and cousins. He was a slave--listed on an inventory along with mules and bushels of wheat. All this adversity didn't break his spirit for he had an intellectual curiosity underterred by his circumstances.
When he was 8, he was sent to Baltimore to be a house servant. His owner's wife began teaching him to read but her husband walked in on a teaching session and became very angry warning that education means "there will be no keeping him". That's when Frederick realized that "knowledge is freedom" so he taught himself to read and write in secret knowing that education was the pathway from slavery to freedom. He would trace over words in discarded spelling books until his handwriting was smooth and graceful.
By age 13 he was reading articles about the abolition of slavery to other slaves and when he escaped to freedom, Frederick eagerly used his hard-earned wisdom to lecture against slavery and to fight for the emancipation-not only of blacks but also women and other oppressed people.
When he was 20, he dressed as a sailor, boarded a train and escaped to freedom in NYC. He married the woman who aided his escape, moved to MA and adopted Douglass as his surname from Sir Walter Scott's poem, Lady of the Lake.
Over his lifetime, his triumphs were many: abolitionist, women's rights activist, author, owner-editor of newspapers, fluent speaker of many languages, Minister to Haiti, and most respected African American orator of the 1800's.
His home is on a high hill overlooking the city and was purchased by and is maintained by the National Park Service. While visiting we watched a video and it was so moving that I watched it again that evening at home. If you're interested, the 33 minute video is very engaging.
Thank you, Nancy, for steering us in this direction.